"Oh, it's so warm now, even this close to midnight. When I left, it was single digits."
Sally was smiling at me with her pale blue eyes as we walked together, me pushing a cart stacked with her extensive luggage collection toward my waiting taxi. She's in her late fifties, but age has done little to mute her youthful glow and enthusiasm for life.
I've been driving Sally to and from her Fayston home for a few years. I'd call her a snowbird, but our migratory friends typically fly south and stay put for the winter, while Sally seems to dart back and forth to her Florida getaway.
When we reached the cab, she apologized — as she always does — for her many hefty bags. At least one exceeded 50 pounds; I know this because it was tagged as such by the airline. The woman is not a light traveler. "No problem whatsoever," I assured her. "This is exactly why I switched to a minivan last year. Plus, I can use the exercise."
Cruising toward the highway, I asked, "Now, where's your place in Florida again? I want to say Marco Island?"
"Close," Sally replied, chuckling. "You were just a little south. I'm actually in Naples."
"How can I forget? The Italian namesake. Did you have a great time, as usual? Was your good friend in residence?"
An old friend of Sally's owns one of the units in her Naples condo development. That's what drew her down there originally.
"No, Diane has been in Paris since February. But Rachel — her daughter and my goddaughter — was with me for almost the whole time. It was so energizing being around her. She and her friends would invite me out to the clubs with them. So I did do some drinking, which really doesn't do me any good, but I did have fun. I was a little concerned about Rachel, though. She's really drinking a lot, and nearly every night."
"Well, you know how it goes," I said. "People have phases in their life when they become susceptible to substance abuse. Hopefully, she'll find her way through that passage. It helps that she has a good godmother."
"Aw, thanks, Jernigan."
We drove south on Interstate 89 under a star-filled sky, the roadway dry and inviting. Sometimes I feel as if I have two separate jobs: winter cabbie and non-winter cabbie. In the winter, there's the constant strain of negotiating ice and snow conditions, or the nearly omnipresent threat thereof. I can still enjoy the customer interactions, but much of my attention is consumed by safety concerns and staying focused on the next turn, the next stretch of road.
Once spring breaks through, I'm able to exhale and simply enjoy the ride. Until, that is, the following November or December. Maybe I should move to Naples and hang with Sally for the winter, I fantasized.
Taking Exit 10, we bounced through Waterbury, which, I reflected, seems to have fully recovered from the devastating flood of 2011. New restaurants and businesses have taken hold, a welcome and promising sight. As we took the right where Route 100 branches off Route 2, Sally said, "I want to tell you about an extraordinary experience I had a few weeks ago on the beach."
"I am all ears," I said. It might have been the first time in my life using that strange idiom, but I meant it. I am all about extraordinary experiences.
"Well, when I first got to Naples, my neck was killing me. I didn't want to take any more pain meds, so I found this masseuse. She turned out to be a nice person, but not very professional. During the massage, she kept talking about her problems — and she had a lot. Finally, she just basically gave up and said she couldn't release the blockage.
"So that left me quite discouraged, and, by that night, I was having a full-fledged panic attack. I think I was looking through the local paper, and I saw this notice for a meditation group that would be meeting the next day at sunset on the beach. It might have mentioned a celebration for some special phase of the moon, or something along those lines. Just deciding that I would go to this the following day brought on some measure of relief.
"The next day at dusk, I show up, and there's about a dozen people. And the leader of the group is this gray-haired lady, very Earth-motherly in a beautiful, flowing pale violet gown. She gathers us in a circle and begins reading us beautiful passages from various spiritual teachers — Rumi, Hafiz, even Jesus. And then she put us in meditation.
"All the while, she was playing, I guess you'd say, this crystal bowl. Like, making it ring with this otherworldly, peaceful, droning sound. I've done some yoga and meditation before, but nothing like this. Afterward, I felt such a calm and sense of well-being, and my neck ache had completely vanished! Oh, and before we broke up, she gave each one of us a small candle."
"Wow, that is amazing," I said. "Did she, like, take any money?"
"No, there was no talk of money."
"Did you get her name?"
"I can't remember, but I think I have it written down in my journal. One of the people in the group said she gives classes and seminars. I know it sounds weird and New Agey, but it was all somehow very straightforward and sincere."
"Sally, it doesn't sound weird to me in the least," I said. "I think that's the kind of help we all could use in these fraught times. Thanks for sharing that experience with me. It feels like it was a blessing for you."
"That's exactly what it felt like to me — a blessing." Sally turned to me, and, in the faint light coming off the dashboard, I could see her smile. "I had a feeling you would understand."
"You got my number, Sally," I said with a laugh. "I'm just waiting to find my beach."
All of these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.